Should food be basis for growth?

Hon Folks, congratulations to government and its workers for expeditiously settling a labour dispute. The K2 billion dispute settlement price is by far much less than would have been the cost of a nationwide strike the disgruntled civil servants threatened to mount.

It’s also heartening to hear that the strike by Chancellor College academic staff, which resulted in closure of the college by six month, has finally been resolved. I can’t help wondering how much the already limping economy has lost as a result of that prolonged labour dispute.

The lecturers may have continued drawing their salaries while staying at home and their employers too may have been enjoying the trappings of power. But the students have ended up with shattered dreams, their parents poorer and the taxpayer completely short-changed.

The real cost of too many interruptions to the operations of public universities—the country’s major anvil for the shaping, “scooping and polishing” of leaders and entrepreneurs—will result in the longevity of mediocrity in the metaphor of the youth of tomorrow, painted in party colours from head to toe, playing the cheer-leader for political flops with deep pockets.

It’s betrayal of the worst kind to the country if folks who got virtually for free high quality public university education are today using their privileged positions in society to sacrifice at the altar of their incessant power-play the academic prospects of the youth of today who are destined to lead the country tomorrow, with or without sound education.

If things are this bad already—Cashgate, cronyism, tribalism, inefficiency, bribery, policy lapses, procrastination, etc—imagine a more sophisticated Malawi (results of rapid technology-driven changes) led by a crop less enlightened than leaders of today!

As they say it’s not all bad and gloom. The economy, which has on its knees for the past two to three years, is up on its toes again. Growth is estimated at over 5 percent. If we indeed hit that target it will be a feat that has eluded our projections in the past three or so years.

The challenge, according to some experts, is that at the current population growth rate, the economy will have to growth at that rate consistently for the next 15 years to arrest poverty at the current levels.

The question is what’s the current level of poverty in Malawi? The answer is: we’re rated at the bottom of the poorest 10 countries in the world if poverty is measured by GDP per capita. We’re   also among the least performers if poverty is measured by the human development index (HDI), a more flexible tool combining poverty, health, education and other variables to reflect the level of deprivation for economies such as our in which the majority are one foot in the money economy and another in agrarian economy.

If our leaders have conscience at all, they will do what it takes to grow the economy consistently not by 5 percent but 7 percent or above. I am reliably informed that unless the economy grows by no less than 6 percent, we shall be sharing poverty, not wealth.

We got to the point where economy was growing at the rate of 7.5 percent  during the first term of Bingu, APM’s elder brother, but all gains were wiped off in the 33 months of Bingu’s crazy second term characterised by dictatorial tendencies, rampant corruption and rabid intolerance to dissenting views. It will be hypocrisy for DPP under APM to claim success in 2019 while we remain in the abject poverty that DPP under Bingu deliberately pushed us into.

Some experts have also opined that it’s naive of the worst kind to project substantial economic growth based on the realisation of food surplus only. There is need for a bipartisan prioritised wealth generation agenda that can survive regime change, should it happen in 2019 and strengthen internal systems for tracking and ensuring accountability.

Another good news is the lowering of inflation to slightly above 12 percent now. Reserve Bank say we are poised to hit the single digit of 8 percent by December. Again much of this is based on availability of food.

The real challenge to spur economic growth by significantly bringing down interest rates, a tall order if government does not cut on wasteful expenditure which triggers borrowing which in turn crowds out private investors, particularly small and medium enterprises. This is where APM should build his legacy if he can. n

 

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